What is reasonable?

There’s a lot of older managers who enjoy moaning about the unreasonable expectations of the young people they hire today. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of younger employees who look at the place they work and ask “why the devil is my progress so slow?”

Well, let’s look at a few home truths.

It’s not the organization’s job to move your career along. It’s yours.

Work, to put it bluntly, isn’t school. You don’t get promoted because you had another birthday.

You get the opportunity when (a) you’ve demonstrated you can slide right into it and (b) they have the necessary opening. (Don’t forget to add the hidden gotcha of (c): when your existing manager knows how she or he is replacing you.)

You don’t get it, in other words, because you think you’re ready.

Nor do you get broader responsibilities, or the chance to make decisions, simply because you think you could handle them.

Large organizations are composed of many small building blocks. These are codified in a system of position descriptions which were written fundamentally to deal with getting the position the pay grade the organization (not even the hiring manager) thinks has to be there to hire at minimum cost. The items in the description become weapons to be used to exclude candidates — or keep increases down at evaluation time.

If all this sounds like human resources is not your friend, you’re getting the real picture.

If you want broad responsibilities and the chance to shape a position for growth, you have to stay out of the big organizations. Yes, they offer security, of a sort. (Undertaking your own personal due diligence to understand just how secure they actually are is something you ought constantly to be doing no matter where you work or what you work at.) But they don’t offer big jobs and fast runs into new and different types of work.

For that, you need a much smaller, and much more entrepreneurial spot, one where your ability to flex, grow, extend, and cover off whatever the crisis of the moment is outweighs all the rest.

That doesn’t have to be for-profit, by the way. A small charity or small community organization has all the same attributes as a small start up looking to become a new player in a market segment.

Understand — clearly — that it’s not “public vs private” sector, either. Any organization of sufficient size will be a bureaucracy. As small organizations grow, they necessarily acquire the hierarchy needed to run them — and with it, the systems, structures, and approaches of larger organizations.

Those job descriptions, performance reviews, etc. are all there for a reason in a large organization. It allows them to defend their actions when challenged in court.

Why court? Frankly, because most people promoted into management don’t want to be there. Oh, they like the perquisites, the better pay, and the rest of that package. But management starts with people, and most managers just plain don’t want to deal with people.

So they hide from their real responsibilities, safely shielded by all the human resource paperwork. They also hide from dealing with the poor performers (and every organization will have them) and play pass the potato for a while moving those that shouldn’t be there around.

But eventually comes a downturn, or a moment when someone has to terminate someone — and that’s the reason all that paper has been built up.

In a small organization, feedback, coaching, development, etc. tends to be more organic. It comes out of just working together. People who can’t deal with each other as peers don’t last long.

So if you’re thinking things move slowly, maybe the real issue is that you don’t need as much security as you thought — and that maybe a lot more freedom is what you really need.

Given how much security there really is these days, maybe this is something you should think through while you still have the options.

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